Just when I had almost given up hope of finding a really inspiring meal, there it was. Cafe Francais, on the corner of Park St, lights on and with the bonus of Hendrick’s signage everywhere. Any establishment that promotes our house gin is one we’re happy to walk into (and stumble out of).
There’s an army of service staff buzzing about the place; it’s apparently ‘White Night’. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but lots of people wearing white keep streaming into the venue.
UPDATE: please scroll down for the updated review.
It’s mildly embarrassing to be what seems like the only two people who missed the memo and are dressed all in black. Way to go and show the town we’re not cool (or maybe we’re just hipster – we’re really not, in face we’re not even hip). Someone mentions free Hendrick’s cocktails for ladies between 7 and 8pm. It’s almost too good to be true and I’m prepared to suffer the indignity of not wearing white. Free Hendrick’s. Mixed into cocktails. I actually don’t think there is any quicker way to get me to the bar. It’s 7.14pm, which means I have exactly 46 minutes of quality gin consumption left.
We order a martini (Rs 840++ if you’re not a lady) and a Hendrick’s mule of some sort. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t quite remember what it was called, but it had ginger beer and it was delicious. Not your typical promotional cocktail either, they definitely didn’t skimp on the gin. The bartender was one of the best ones I’ve seen around Colombo – multitasking and actually tasting drinks before they went out to customers. Seems simple, but they don’t seem to do that much here.
A couple Quite a few drinks in, we are told that as part of Colombo Fashion Week, Cafe Français are offering a ‘White menu’ – six courses for Rs 4950++ a person. To be completely honest, I have heard mixed reviews about their food – at AU$53, it’s relatively cheap for fine dining by Australian standards, but I imagine it’s a lot of money if you’re earning local wages. Either way, I’m very keen to try the food for myself – what better way to do it than to try the chef’s special menu?
The first course is a lobster “pique” (in case you’re wondering, it’s a traditional French term for using a clove to pin a bay leaf to an onion) with emulsified coconut milk and fennel glazed marshmallow. The emulsified coconut milk is a lovely, creamy contrast to the sweetness of lobster. There’s good crunch and textural contrast from the coconut shavings, and the aniseedy fennel gives the dish depth. I’m struck by the care that’s gone into these local ingredients.
The staff are impressive here too – effortlessly whisking away plates and resetting cutlery.
Second course is scallops tempura, leeks fondue and yoghurt. There’s a deliciously umami parmesan crisp that works well with the perfectly cooked scallops and sweet, slightly crunchy leeks. Dairy is quite tricky here is Sri Lanka and I’m taken with the quality of the yoghurt, which I assume must be house made. It does well to round out the dish, the mild acidity is a great balancer.
We’re told it’s barramundi in filo pastry with beurre blanc and truffles, but I don’t see any filo on mine – maybe it’s not filo in the traditional sense. It’s not heavy on the truffles either, but it’s a good dish – fresh, light and well-executed – not quite as standout as the others. Mostly I’m struck with how effectively the chefs have managed to utilise local ingredients, just when I was lamenting the quality and availability of produce here.
The fourth dish is a cheese course of sorts – ricotta tartine with honey and walnuts. I’m not a huge fan of ricotta in general, but this is an exception – creamy, almost buttery ricotta with toasty, charred walnuts. Excellent with a glass of either red or even white wine.
I’m surprised that there are in two desserts in a six course meal, but hey, who’s complaining. The verbena and lemongrass ‘white snow’ is a really clever dish. Creamy textures accentuated with slightly sour local mangoes, and more surprisingly, popcorn. I first thought it was strange but it works really well. It adds an earthy characteristic to a bright, zingy dessert.
A very good meal, and Cafe Français has proven, to me at least, that Colombo is certainly capable of world class dining. There’s a couple of things they could work on – while the food was perfectly executed, I think portions were a little on the small side. I’m a huge fan of dessert, but I do think the meal could’ve done with one more savoury course in lieu of a sweet one. Service was good, though it would’ve been nice if the staff introduce dishes as they’re served. None of those suggestions should detract from the fact that it was a very good dinner.
I have no gripe with the price (Rs 5445, after tax) but do bear in mind I’ve only been here a week and am still getting my head around pricing.
The next special menu at Cafe Francais will be Thursday, 19 March for Good France. They are offering a glass of champagne and six courses for Rs 7500++. For more details check the venue’s Facebook page.
On the all important G vs GFC index (good or just good for Colombo), it’s a Good. Good produce, great skill by the chefs and attentive service. I imagine it’s not easy to cook a true French menu in a country like Sri Lanka where it can be difficult to get good quality meat and dairy, so I’m really impressed with their spin on French food that utilises local produce. It may not be classic French, but it’s still pretty darn good. I’m not sure what their day to day menu is like, but I dare say we’ll be back to try it.
UPDATE: Yeah, one year on, the food sucks. I don’t know what happened but I popped in for breakfast and they somehow managed to stuff up a bacon and cheese croissant and a croque monsieur. I should’ve guessed when we were the only people in the restaurant at 10am on a Sunday. The croque monsieur had no cheese, was served with generic supermarket white bread and there was barely any ham inside. I posted a picture on FourSquare that I can’t be bothered to repost here. If you can’t do a croque monsier properly, you don’t deserve to call yourself a french restaurant. They do a decent cocktail from memory and the place is usually decent for drinks on weekends – let’s hope that’s still the case.
All opinions are my own. I went to this restaurant and paid for food myself, unless otherwise stated.